Sally Walters | Digital Marketing Guru

Guest blogger, former alumna and digital marketing guru, Sally Walters, talks about her mission to transform Caerphilly tourism businesses into digital winners.

Sally at Fam trip March 2019 by Dragon's Lair

How digital marketing is transforming the tourism industry.

Rewind the clock to 2002 when I first started at Caerphilly County Borough Council as the Tourism & Marketing Officer… traditional marketing was invincible, my biggest resource was money to spend on tangible marketing materials, the better the brochure and printed advertising, the more consumers I reached.

Fast forward to 2019 and long gone are the days when visitors come knocking on your door or just make a phone call to book a hotel room. During the mid 1990s, I worked as a Tourist Information Centre (TIC) Assistant in Caerphilly whilst studying for a BA in Tourism. I would be rushed off my feet making accommodation bookings for local B&Bs and hotels, for those who remember ‘BABA’ (Book a Bed Ahead). The demise of TICs can partially be blamed on the rise of digital marketing – visitors no longer need to pop into their local TIC for information, access to a world of information is available at their fingertips.

Tourism is one of the industries that is most affected by digital marketing, consumers expect to be able to plan and book a holiday digitally, followed by searching for the best places to visit once they have arrived at the destination. Wi-Fi (preferably free!) is essential to today’s traveller, yet so many of the tourism businesses I speak to still don’t have Wi-Fi access for their customers.

‘Ignoring online marketing is like opening a business

but not telling anyone’- Anonymous

I support a variety of tourism businesses; every one of them is different with varied digital marketing knowledge and skills. Some are on top of their game and are using social media platforms, online booking agents and fully understand the importance of digital marketing. Whilst others do not use any form of digital marketing to promote their business. The visitor accommodation sector is the most challenging to convince that digital marketing is crucial to their business.

Providing the right training pitched at the right level is problematic, and I’ve experienced it myself. I signed up for a ‘Dynamic Social Media Workshop’ only to find that several attendees didn’t know how to set up a Facebook page let alone be dynamic with it. I learnt very little and left the workshop feeling I’d not learnt anything new.

A recent conversation with a B&B highlighted the lack of awareness of digital marketing. I was told that the B&B saw the quietest summer ever in 2018, which bucks the all Wales trend of an increase in visitors, largely due to the good summer weather. When I delved deeper into why they were so quiet, it became apparent that the B&B were relying on word of mouth (offline) and listings in one or two printed brochures.

On the other end of the spectrum are the digital winners – visitor accommodation with websites that clearly link to their social media platforms and use online booking agents to boost sales. What did they do when faced with competition on Airbnb, and TripAdvisor?… They joined them.

Content is King

Just having a website is no longer enough, it needs to be interlinked to all digital presence such as social media platforms and social advertising, focussed search engine optimisation and search advertising. The tourism industry consists of a high proportion of small businesses with small marketing budgets, this is where digital marketing becomes your best friend. It allows small businesses to compete with bigger players by using creative content. Customers want ‘experiences,’ not just a service, this is where small tourism businesses can really win with their own personal stories and illustrate what kind of experience visitors can expect.

‘Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make,

but about the stories you tell’ – Seth Godin

I will continue my crusade and encourage as many tourism businesses to become digital marketing gurus, encouraging the use of new technologies to explore how their businesses can reach current and potential customers. I’m currently trying to source a digital marketing expert who can deliver a seminar to accommodation businesses on demystifying online booking platforms… this is proving to be difficult! Watch this space.

CTA Fam Visit to Senghenydd Memorial Garden march 2019

Caerphilly Tourism Association (CTA) Fam Visit to Senghenydd Memorial Garden, March 2019

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